The next step – The Art(s) of Slow Cinema Journal

It’s been several years that I dream of publishing my own journal. I was still a student when I began to think about pursuing this because I was frustrated at being rejected because my subject matter didn’t seem to fit anywhere. Things have changed lot, though, since the idea first popped into my head, although I can say for sure that it has never disappeared. Over the years, my blog has become the most visited site in the area of Slow Cinema. I have readers from all corners of the world (except for Greenland, which I find very sad), and I have gotten to know a lot of wonderful people because of my writing. I have gotten to know filmmakers, cinephiles, but I also came across new films thanks to my readers. In the last five years, I have been able to build a network of people whose interest and thirst for Slow Cinema I’m happy to cater for, and who, at the same time, taught me a lot; about cinema, about writing, about confidence, about myself.

It is thanks to Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais that I’m returning to my idea of publishing a journal. When I held their FilmPanic magazine in my hands, I could no longer shake off this thought. I could no longer ignore it for another couple of years. My guts told me that now was the time. Why is that? Because I feel that this would be the right step forwards; expanding on the blog; inviting other contributors, whom I always rejected because the blog was supposed to be my personal platform on which I developed my own ideas; creating a new challenge for myself; challenging academia and its published content on Slow Cinema.

The Art(s) of Slow Cinema has already given birth to tao films, my video-on-demand platform for contemplative world cinema. The platform went live on 1 January 2017, and after a few adjustments (learning by doing!), we’re now offering a growing catalogue of fiction films, documentaries and experimental cinema. Every month, more films are added and you can either buy the films individually, or you can get yourself a 30-day subscription, which will not be renewed automatically. We’re fair and don’t want to cash in on people’s forgetfulness on having subs with several platforms. So, in case you haven’t yet been aware of this project, you should definitely check it out, because we show films that are difficult to get hold of, or are, in most cases, available exclusively on tao.

The Art(s) of Slow Cinema journal, whose publication in the near future I’m herewith announcing (you should imagine me dance while writing this!), is another step forward, another attempt at expanding on the work I have already done, and at creating alternative content in the context of Slow Cinema. I will take it slow, of course, and start small. There won’t be a fancy design, there won’t be glossy paper, or a team of editors trying to think of what’s best to publish. What this journal will be instead is a space for those interested in the field to publish their ideas and thoughts. The journal will develop as freely as it can, without word limits etc which always inhibit a real development of great ideas. Just as I listen to the filmmakers, who release their films through tao films, I’ll listen to the writers of The Art(s) of Slow Cinema journal and accompany them as best as I can. So what can you expect if not the glossy stuff or a perfectly designed, expensive magazine?

You’ll be able to read exclusive content that you wouldn’t find here on this blog. There will be interviews with filmmakers. There will be filmmaker notes, essays by filmmakers, diaries about their shootings. There will be essays by cinephiles, who have a special interest in Slow Cinema and who love to explore certain themes in more detail in their writing. There will be creative responses to films. There will be a whole lot that you will never find either here or in academic writing. It’ll be a sort of fan journal, if you want to call it this way, albeit this might sound too cheesy and boring.

The first authors have been selected, and they’re working on their respective pieces until the beginning of July. I’m really looking forward to this and feel super excited to take this step this year, as, yes, the first edition will be published this year. Magazines will be available via pre-order only in order to create a sustainable project that does not become a financial burden. I don’t want to prep 1,000 copies if only 100 people want to read it. I don’t have a fireplace where I can burn the rest to heat the house 😀 Nowadays, we need to be reasonable and while I would love to go full-blow on this, I want to do this right, that means careful, thought-through, with the aim to grow if necessary and possible.

Details about the content of the first edition and the pre-order price will be published in due course. I need to collect the articles first and then I can give you an update on everything. Let’s make this happen and please share the slow love! Thank you!

tao films subscription pre-sale

As part of our effort to increase tao films’ visibility, we are running a pre-sale campaign for subscriptions to our VoD platform, the only platform that is dedicated to the art of contemplative cinema 🙂

There are several reasons behind this campaign. First of all, even though we started off as a no-budget platform, we can no longer hide the fact that it costs money to run a platform like this. I would love to have things differently, but it’s sadly not always possible. Our campaign is therefore an effort to raise at least 600 EUR in order to keep going for the next 12 month. It is also a way to find out whether subscriptions would be a viable way forward as the campaign will show whether there is an interest in subscriptions or whether it is more attractive to price each film individually. I believe it is the former, but we offer different price models for our campaign, so we will see what attracts people most. The money we raise with this campaign helps us not only to keep going but to focus on advertising, on partnerships, on generally increasing our visibility, especially in key cities around Europe and North America (as our main targets) in 2018.

For the duration of the campaign, we offer a one-month subscription for 10 EUR, a three-months subscription for 25 EUR, a six-months subscription for 50 EUR, a twelve-months subscription for 100 EUR and one lucky lifetime subscription for 500 EUR. Each of those subscriptions will become available in the new year and you can then decide when you want to start watching our films. All films are available to you, all the time, for the duration of your subscription.

Our campaign runs until 16 October. If you love what we do, please consider a subscription. If you cannot support us financially but love what we do, we would appreciate it if you could share the link to our campaign and tell everyone how amazing we are 🙂

Do check our campaign on Indiegogo (click, click!). Thank you so much for your support in the past. I appreciate your help and support, and I’m looking forward to continuing this contemplative journey through world cinema with you!

Seaworld – Hing Tsang (2016)

!!! This film is now available on tao films !!!

What I like about my job (is it even a job?) is that I always find films that surprise me; films that show me something I haven’t seen before; films that startle me in a positive way. It keeps up my faith in cinema, in the idea that not everything is (as yet) homogenous for a homogenous mass out there. Hing Tsang’s Seaworld is one of those that, to be fair, took a while to get me. But the longer the film lasted, the more I loved it. If you have seen slow films before, or even just our films on tao films, then Seaworld will surprise you. It might make you raise your eyebrows. It might make you laugh. But its smoothness, its gentleness, will take you on a very enjoyable journey to the bottom of the sea.

Seaworld (Hing Tsang, 2016)

Seaworld is not the ordinary slow film. It is not entirely narrative, but not entirely experimental either. It is not entirely fiction, but not entirely documentary either (“I try not to work within the limits of genre.”). It is a game, a playful trip alongside sea creatures that you sure haven’t seen this way yet. For this film, Hing Tsang, a lecturer in Suffolk whose work focuses on documentary film, worked together with José Navarro, a puppeteer from Peru. While the film starts with “real” footage taken at a beach, the film then shifts to the actual sea world, entirely replicated by Navarro’s body; arms and legs become fish and other creatures. Even shoes become creatures that one can find in the sea.

The movements of Navarro’s arms, legs and feet are graceful. They’re imitating the movement of sea creatures beautifully. The use of a green and slightly blue background to these movements gives us a sense of where we really are. The creatures are slightly transparent at times, at others they’re a bit blurred. The characteristics of water change our perception of what we see in it, and Hing Tsang is trying to get as close to this as possible, albeit in an abstract (puppeteer) way. When I saw the film in London, where I met the director, I was conscious of the film dragging me towards it, pulling me into it. But I couldn’t resist. Not that I wanted to, but I nevertheless found it curious that I couldn’t let it go.

Seaworld (Hing Tsang, 2016)

Seaworld is not just a combination of dream imagery. Hing Tsang uses a very effective, minimalist soundtrack that renders the film a visual lullaby. Just speaking of the sound, the film reminded me of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s short film Mekong Hotel. The images are very different, but the persistent slow guitar music functions as a lullaby; it pulls you in, it makes you sleepy. The same process goes on in Hing Tsang’s Seaworld.

I would strongly advise you to give this film a try via tao films where it is available for streaming. It’s a wonderful piece of work, something that definitely helps you to wind down after a long week of work. It’s Friday, and Seaworld would surely help you to take it slow, all the while showing a kind of slow film you have probably not seen before.

Remains – Yotam Ben-David (2016)

!!! This film is now available on tao films !!!

What remains if a relationship, if love, has hit a dead end? We have all been at this point, asking ourselves whether we’re still moving forwards together, as a couple, or if we have long reached a stage when it is almost impossible to return to the good old days.

With patience and an eye for detail (in a couple’s routine life), Yotam Ben-David from Israel explores this painful stage, often ignored out of fear to face the reality and the frightening possibility of being alone again. Itamar and Thomas, the protagonists of Remains, couldn’t be more different from one another. Whether it was a coincidence or not, the respective size/height of each character says a lot about how they are positioned in their relationship. Thomas is a tall, almost overpowering man. He is forceful and patronising. Ben-David doesn’t show this with the help of low angles, which would establish Thomas’ overpowering nature clearly on a visual level. Instead, the director asks us to read the character through his actions. This might take longer, but it is a way to get the viewer engaged without feeding them with a golden spoon.

Remains (dir Yotam Ben-David)

Itamar, played by the director himself, is the complete opposite. It seems as if he is with his back against the wall, not having enough breathing space, being unable to move, to live. Regardless of what he does, it is wrong. The relationship is no longer an intimate community of love, but a sort of boxing ring where battles take place on a daily basis. Night appears to be the only relief for both sides, until another day, another battle, begins.

Ben-David uses beautiful night shots in order to underline the idea of a period of peace. But you can’t ignore the fact that the director’s characters are shown primarily alone in those night shots, suggesting that peace can only exist if the two partners are embalmed by solitude. It is uncomfortable to watch the two men positioning themselves in strong opposition to one another. There is persistent tension between the two, which acts as a thread which leads us through the film’s narrative.

All of this is, of course, the mere surface of the film. I had watched the film twice or three times, before I realised that the film has a deeper meaning. There was something that went beyond the depiction of a relationship that has hit a dead end. In fact, Ben-David said in an interview with tao films:

All of my films have roots in my own reality and my own experience, but at the same time I try to distil and highlight certain elements from this experience in order to examine them closely through my films. In this case I was very interested in this type of role play between dominant and submissive, which is something I believe we all live to a certain degree (even if not in the same volume as in the film). I was specifically interested in the different shades and nuances between those two poles, finding power in passivity and weakness in control. I was also interested in the idea that power is both attracting and destructive.

Remains (dir Yotam Ben-David)

Remains uses its characters in order to explore the concept of power. This goes beyond the on-screen relationship between two men. Quite interestingly, it has a political edge to it. The idea of an attractive personality which you follow and engage with only to find out that once you’re in this relationship (any type of relationship, it doesn’t have to be a loving relationship) you are oppressed to a point where you are aware of what’s happening without being able to stop – this rings so true in current politics where the right is on the rise around the world. Or when even left politicians turn out to use their power to, quite literally, overpower.

This political aspect of Ben-David’s Remains might not be very obvious. The young director is very clever in hiding the obvious, asking us to search for something that is just as important as the surface that plays out on screen. The short is a subtle investigation into human relationships and the power that plays out between them. Could we go as far as saying that the power Ben-David depicts mirrors societies, too, confronting one another because of their differences? Watch the film on our platform and see for yourself.

Sixty Spanish Cigarettes – Mark John Ostrowski (2015, repost)

!!! This film is now available on tao films !!!

There is something sublimely beautiful about Mark John Ostrowski’s film Sixty Spanish Cigarettes (2015). Fifteen minutes into the film, an extreme long shot captures the sea and coast in the background. From the right hand side of the frame, a small boat comes into view. Ostrowski’s camera stays with the boat and follows it. Even in this extreme long-shot, we can see how the boat is moved by the wind and the waves. The sun is shining from behind a few clouds, it seems. The image is not in colour, even though you would perhaps think that. Coastal images in colour are always superb.

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But no. Ostrowski works against our expectations. He frustrates us. Scenes of blissful contemplation are interrupted by hard cuts to a black screen. Those contemplative scenes of land- and seascapes, for instance, feel like a carrot Ostrowski is hanging in front of our eyes. But he takes that carrot away as soon as we have almost reached a state of contemplation. We cannot contemplate everything at once. We have to give it time. We have to be patient in order to reach this desired state. Ostrowski works well in alternating beautifully slow shots with a black screen, the latter making us hyper-aware of where we are.

Paradoxically, Sixty Spanish Cigarettes is about movement, and yet it gives us no feeling of speed at all. We see the protagonist walking through several different (beautiful) landscapes, which reminded me strongly of those used in Albert Serra’s Birdsong (2008). The clouds are brushing slowly over the hills, while the man is often dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape. He is alone, alone on his way to an unknown location. At times, he stops to light a cigarette. At other times, he simply rests. It is this solitude which gives us a feeling of slowness, a sense of pause. The repeated scenes of a man’s walking through an empty landscape brought a wonderful book back into my head; The Philosophy of Walking. If you haven’t read it, please do get yourself a copy.

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Ostrowski’s film shows the director’s superb photographic eye. Many of his shots are beautifully composed. They could easily be photos in an album, or large prints in a gallery. To me, the visual beauty of the film was also its strongest asset; the viewer in awe of nature, in awe of simple but expressive architecture. Ostrowski’s long-takes of those “photos” helped me to pause, to be in the present but also to wonder what the protagonist was really up to. I’m not entirely sure whether this is ever fully revealed in the film, but it is of little interest in any case. Sixty Spanish Cigarettes is more of an atmospheric film than about a set narrative persistently progressing within the film’s 60 minutes running time. It reminded me of Martin Lefebvre’s modes of viewing; the narrative mode and the spectacular mode. Many slow films, which most certainly includes Ostrowski’s film, operate very much in the spectacular mode, even though there is a narrative mode in all. But the narrative mode is suppressed in many instances to give way to contemplation.

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I believe that the film could have been a tick shorter in order to make full use of its shots. I’m not entirely sure when this shot appears, perhaps after around 45 to 50min. There is a beautiful extreme long shot of a landscape at the coast, with the protagonist sitting on a rock or something similar. He has his back turned to us and is looking at the scenery, like us. I expected the film to cut there. It would have been the most fitting and most suitable ending for the film, but unfortunately Ostrowski did not cut there and kept going instead. The final images, to me,weakened the film slightly because they were not entirely necessary.

Nevertheless, with Sixty Spanish Cigarettes, Ostrowski has created a beautiful piece of Slow Cinema, which, regardless of whether or not he continues this slow journey, adds him to my list of directors to look out for in future. If the film runs at a festival near you, I highly recommend watching it!

Wanderer – Martynas Kundrotas (2016)

!!! This film is now available on tao films until 30 June 2017 !!!

Three months ago, I have moved to Brittany after two pretty depressing years in the north of France. Now that the stressful study time (PhD time) is over, I’m trying to take a lot more time for me and my natural surrounding. My new home is a two to three minute walk away from a canal where you can have a daily walk and watch the ducks making their way to whatever place they would like to go. A five minute walk away is a prairie, a sort of wild place; lots of trees, bushes, birds and even rabbits! If the weather allows it, I’ll make sure to walk through this peaceful place, a place where I can breathe, where I can think or not think, where I can just be.

Now, why am I telling you all this, you might wonder. When I walk through the prairie, I’m always thinking of Martynas Kundrotas’ Wanderer, a simple short film about a young wanderer roaming about in nature. I agree, it doesn’t sound like the most spectacular film, and it is, in fact, the least spectacular film I have offered on tao films so far. I have programmed it nevertheless, because I think that Kundrotas’ Wanderer is the closest a slow film comes to what I think some slow film directors want to achieve: bring us, disconnected as we are from our natural surrounding, back to our environment.

Martynas Kundrotas – Wanderer

I believe that we have lost touch with nature. If anything, we think we’re the master of nature, which is also shown in Western painting. I spoke about Chinese painting on this blog before and how Chinese painters painted Man always in a sort of miniature size in order to show that nature is more powerful, more forceful. The size of humans in Western painting is an indication of what we think of ourselves: we’re the crowning glory, we have the power to control nature. Indeed, our relationship to nature is one of control, power and exploitation. We straighten rivers; we hunt animals just for the fun of it; we cut down trees because they’re in our way; we exploit our natural resources in order to live in luxury. If we do walk through a park here and there, it is only to walk through. It’s usually not in order to stop and look at trees, grass, or flowers.

Looking at the bark of a tree, for longer than a second, as does Kundrotas’ wanderer, is the opposite of our terribly fast life. We need an adrenaline kick nowadays in order to feel alive, and the bark of a tree is everything but. However, the more time you spend looking, the more you see. There is so much life, a life that runs parallel to others, but a life which we aren’t aware of, because we don’t take the time to become aware of it in the first place.

Martynas Kundrotas – Wanderer

Kundrota’s wanderer roams through fields, touching the grass. He stands at a riverbed in the rain, seemingly enjoying every drop that falls from the sky. While we would open our umbrellas or run for cover, the wanderer remains at one with nature. Water, precious source of life, is something else we merely use without being aware of the meaning of it for us. We have become ignorant, blind, and numb, and Kundrotas attempts to rectify this. Wanderer is not a film that seeks to teach. Rather, in simple, unspectacular frames, the director tries to raise awareness; awareness of what what is around us, awareness of what we no longer see.

He very much follows Chantal Akerman’s mantra, which I described last week. In order to see, you need to look for longer than a few seconds. Seeing means more than recognising. It means getting to know, it means letting oneself drift off maybe for a chance to learn something new. It is entirely up to you whether you take the journey with the wanderer or whether you dismiss the reality of what nature really is and what it means to us, to our presence, and that, without it, we wouldn’t be here.

A souvenir from Switzerland – Sorayos Prapapan (2016)

!!! This films is available on tao films until 31 March 2017 !!!

In 2015, Europe saw a huge influx of refugees from Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan – countries that had become more and more dangerous, and too dangerous for some people to be able to survive. Especially in Europe, the year 2015 will be remembered as such, and, to many, it will be remembered as the year humanity failed. Refugees were treated like potential terrorists, they were locked up in camps, shot at at borders. It was a year of numbers. The famous one million that has “flooded” Germany, for example. But what is going on behind those numbers, who are those people who flee their home, not willingly, but as a pure attempt at survival, putting themselves at risk, knowingly, by choosing an unsafe boat trip across the Mediterranean, organised by corrupt smugglers?

I was surprised to see Sorayos Prapapan’s film, which deals, beyond the surface, with exactly this. I had seen the Thai director’s Boonrem before and was taken by how the young filmmaker places emphasis on detail, on observation, and on exploring a character’s mind. His short film A souvenir from Switzerland is different in that it is, first of all, a documentary. Or is it? In some ways, it is. In others, it is more a personal description of the director’s trip to a film festival in Switzerland. The film opens when he is back home. But we don’t see Prapapan, nor the friend who visits him. Instead, the director uses almost cliché images of Switzerland he has shot during his trip.

Voice-overs are pretty common in film, and it is a method that guides this film, too. However, I’m not too sure whether we can speak of a voice-over here. The film made me question the term. I don’t think it’s applicable to A souvenir. To me, the term voice-over suggests that the real action happens in the image. This isn’t the case here. Prapapan creates the action in his words, and I do believe that the voice is the guiding principle, so why do we not speak of an image-over? Yes, I’m going wild with thoughts now, but I genuinely believe that the term voice-over is limited and that A souvenir might just be the right starting point for rethinking this.

If I compare the film to the other five films we offer on tao films, then I can easily say that this the film in which the least happens. If you wait for visual cues, for some sort of action in the images, you will be disappointed. A souvenir asks you to listen instead, and it tests your patience. The film is based on a conversation between the director and his friend. Prapapan tells his friend about Switzerland, the way the people live in that country, and how expensive it is. It is a normal conversation which you would not consider as worthwhile putting on screen. But if you’re an attentive listener and an engaged citizen, then you reconsider your position.

Prapapan brings a souvenir from Switzerland with him. For his friend. A gift. The title suggests another aspect of the word “souvenir”, namely a memory. In the second half of the film, the director mentions an Afghan filmmaker friend of his. He met him by chance, and he was taken by what he told him; that he became a refugee and is now seeking asylum in Switzerland. The souvenir from Switzerland becomes a story of an unfortunate artist who had to leave his country because he spoke up against oppression. This is the souvenir that Prapapan really takes homes with him. Interestingly, he never shows the Afghan filmmaker. The choice is deliberate: this is a film not only about this particular filmmaker, but about many thousands of people who were forced to leave their country. A souvenir from Switzerland tells the story of one specific person, but renders it universal by using absence as the main aesthetic formula.

A souvenir is certainly minimalist. It is an improvised piece that developed out of the director’s encounter with his friend. Yet, it is a contribution to the current developments and puts the spotlight onto the person, and puts aside the numbers that have been so prominent in writing about refugees.

Tao Films Season Two, 1 April

I’m very happy to present the selection for the next season of tao films. We have increased the number of films available to eight; three feature films and five shorts. There is quite a strong focus on Europe, though it’s not an exclusive focus. For us, it’s a look at our home, before we’re going to South America and Asia in season three.

Our feature films were made by Mark John Ostrowski (Spain), Félix Dufour-Laperrière (Canada) and Claudio Romano (Italy). I’m particularly happy about the first two, having written about the directors’ Sixty Spanish Cigarettes and Transatlantique respectively here on this blog in the past. Now, I can finally bring these films to you.

Our short-film directors are Yotam Ben-David from Israel, Dimitar Kutmanov from Bulgaria, Hing Tsang from the UK, Karel Tuytschaever from Belgium and Martynas Kundrotas from Lithuania.

Trailers, interviews and more info about the films will be available in the next couple of days. As was the case in the first season, feature films are 4,99€ and short films are 1,99€. Our package price is 19.99€ this time due to the slightly higher number of films overall. Sixty per cent of your money goes directly to the director whose film you purchase.

Looking forward to seeing you on tao films! You can still see our handpicked selection for season one until 31 March.

Osmosis – Nasos Karabelas (2016)

!!! This film is available on tao films until the end of March 2017 !!!

And there he stands, a ruin forgotten by everyone – and more so by himself than by any other. He isn’t moving, nor is he sensing anything.  

Nasos Karabelas’s Osmosis (2016) starts in a bleak tone. The deep male voice reminiscing about the self is captivating. Usually, it is images that don’t let you go, images which you must keep looking at. In Osmosis, it is the sound, the voice, which holds you captive. You cannot not listen. Karabelas’s piece is deeply philosophical, underlined with a minimalist mise-en-scène, which, at times, brings forth striking frames.

What is osmosis? It can be a process of absorption, a process of assimilation. What happens to the self in the process of assimilation? It may, by way of assimilation, become nothing. The person begins to feel lonely in a vibrant community because something of him/herself got lost in the process of assimilation. It is this loss that, to me, is very important in Karabelas’s film. I might sound contradictory when I say that the film is characterised by nothingness and emptiness while previously having mentioned the strong presence of a voice-over throughout. But these two don’t have to cancel each other out. On the contrary. The voice-over highlights emptiness, nothingness, the search for something, the burden of loneliness.

He stands on the threshold of nonentity like someone without sense of himself, disenchanted by everything within a world where nothing is lovable. He passes into death already dead, tasting all the abhorrence and the denial of living.

Karabelas said in an interview with tao films that he didn’t want to give answers with this film. He wanted to pose questions, and this he does. Osmosis is a film that despite its slow pace does not allow the viewer to simply sink into his/her chair. If you let the film happen to you and focus on the voice-over, you fill find your thoughts wander. It is not a film which you can simply “accept”. Osmosis needs to be dealt with, enquired, questioned.

The film’s aesthetics help with this. Karabelas uses a simple grey to black-and-white tone. The frames are empty. The unnamed protagonist is often only a dot in a vast landscape. Or a figure of sorrow in nothingness. At times, I even wondered whether he needed to be there, whether this destitute existence would have perhaps been stronger without him, to reinforce the idea of emptiness even more.

All he sees is distaste, and that disgusts him. He feels the anguish. But he’s always there, he can’t but be there. The wait makes him languish.

In a way, Osmosis could be a parable for the modern world experience. It is not a secret that people consider life today as bleak, full of problems, destruction and destitution. Of course, this isn’t a general sensation, but it does exist and it’s not rare. Karabelas explores this feeling very effectively and asks us to follow him through the mind of his protagonist.But who is this protagonist? Is he a man as shown in the film? Or does he stand for a much wider, much larger entity?

The ebb of forgetting – Liryc de la Cruz (2015)

!!! This film is now available on tao films until 30 March 2017 !!!

The following is a repost from another blog I had worked on two years ago around which time I came across Liryc’s solo work for the first time.

After having worked with Lav Diaz on several projects, Liryc de la Cruz is embarking on his own filmmaking career. His short film “Sa Pagitan ng Pagdalaw at Paglimot” was selected for the short film section at this year’s Locarno Film Festival as one of only two Filipino films. Only recently, I had an issue with putting down thoughts on Martin Edralin’s short Hole. Pagitan is similar. It’s a film that needs to be seen. I more and more feel the limits of my own creation – blogs on which I can write about films, which are often so good that I would much rather not write about because words ruin the experience.

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Pagitan is about memory, about forgetting, about searching. Perhaps about absence. The film draws you in with a voice over of a woman: “Along with letting go of the memories, is to go back to the past and the things we used to do.” It’s a simple statement, but because it is so simple it’s rarely made. The black screen we see allows us to focus entirely on the woman’s voice, a soft voice, with a hint of melancholy. The voice sets the tone for the rest of the film. It introduces us to Pagitan’s world, which is minimal, contemplative, empty. The latter is by no means negative.

On the contrary, Liryc de la Cruz has made use of vast empty landscapes and only a single character in order to create a minimalist, but expressive portrait. Once the black screen is replaced by imagery, the strong voice-over still lingers in one’s head. We infuse the reading of the images with the woman’s statements on memory. Pagitan is shot in black-and-white. The contrast stresses every detail we see in the frames. At first, we’re positioned behind vegetation. A woman, presumably searching for something or someone, approaches the camera, but doesn’t acknowledge it. She’s distracted, she’s looking for something. But what is she looking for, for her memories?

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What I find particularly interesting in this short film is the camerawork. We’re not speaking about a static camera. Instead, the camera is moving ever so slightly. It has a dream-like aesthetic to it. It is not intrusive in its movement. Nor does it makes us feel like a voyeur. It’s smooth. It’s there and yet almost not noticeable because it looks so natural. You kind of swing with it. Like Diaz, de la Cruz is using long-takes of at times beautiful scenery. This temporal aspect means one has the time to be with the character, to be with the young woman during her search. It allows us time to just be, to let the film happen to us. Contrary to his mentor, as I would describe Diaz in this context, de la Cruz does not turn his film into a hardcore treatment of psychology and history. Perhaps, this may come in future. Perhaps not. As far as I can see, Liryc is very much developing his own approach to filmmaking.

Pagitan is rather a more minimalist investigation into memory and forgetting – without philosophical discourse, without much talk. Pagitan is very much an experience. All the film asks of us is to be there, and to be – a brave, and wonderful debut by an upcoming Filipino filmmaker.